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How to do your own Italian Genealogy Research

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How to do your own Italian Genealogy Research
Basic steps on how to find your Italian Ancestors Records and how to request Documents from the Historical Archives in Italy and the USA 
by Paula Nigro.

How to easily & freely find your Italian Ancestor Records.
The only payment required is for copies of the Government Records here and in Italy.  Eventually you may also want to make a donation to the Churches in Italy if need to use their services and if there is someone on staff who can do lookups for you.  No payment or donation is "required" to have others mail your letters or write them for you because you can do it yourself.  You do NOT have to join an organization and pay monthly dues to work on your own family tree.  If you try your best to do your own genealogy research you will have fun and you will meet people who are researching ancestors in the same localities and then you can help each other.

START WITH YOURSELF and go backwards in time generation by generation.  Write down your name, your parents' names, your grandparents' names, your great-grandparents' names and anything else you know or can discover from relatives, including the names of the brothers and sisters of your parents, grandparents and so on because finding records on your ancestors siblings will help you document your Family Tree.  Write down everything you know or can find out about your ancestors especially significant dates of important events and places your ancestors lived..  

Elders are Gold Dust in Genealogical Research.  Visit, telephone or write all of your older relatives and ask them to help you fill in the blanks.  Ask them if they know of anyone who might have additional information.  Make sure to take notes and tape record the conversations if possible.  Date each piece of information given to you &  write down who gave you the information.  To make it easier to keep organized use any of the free genealogy charts, family group sheets and extraction forms available on the Internet or pick up some at your local Mormon Family History Center.  A list of free charts and forms for Family Tree Research & Genealogy Information is on the USA Tools page of this website. Click this link:

It will help you to visit your local LDS Family History Center at least once.

Find a Family History Center Near You:
GO in and talk to one of their genealogy volunteers.
Tell them you are starting to work on your family tree and that you would like to pick up their free genealogical forms and research guides. They have a *very* inexpensive guide to doing Italian Genealogy Research, an Italian Genealogy Work List and more.

If you are home-bound and/or unable to drive to one of their centers these *Classic LDS Family History Guides* will help you very much.  If you keep them for future reference you can use them whether or not you have an internet connection. RIGHT CLICK and SAVE to your computer these classic info guides:

  1. Italy_finding_ancestor_BW.pdf

  2. italy_finding_ancestor_color.pdf

  3. Italian_genealogy_wordlist.pdf

The "Mormons" (Latter Day Saints) have filmed some of the Italian Civil Records for many of the comuni (municipalities) in Italy from about 1810 to 1860. Some LDS microfilms go up to the 1900/1910s ...BUT many do NOT.  Therefore, if your ancestors, born in the 1880s & 1890s, came over as adults in the 1900s you will have a gap in the records.

The good news is that LDS-FamilySearch is slowly putting up ACTUAL IMAGES of ''some'' of the records in Italy. Check them frequently for availability. DO NOT TRUST A TRANSCRIPTION OF A RECORD. Please try your *best* to find an actual record, or a transmittal from Italy, not someone's version of the record.  It is never in your best interest, genealogically speaking, to trust a transcription.  You need to see the actual record so you don't pass along incorrect information on your ancestors.

Besides incorrect spelling on their extractions some people confuse the date of presentation of a birth to the Mayor (or other comune official) as the birth date. The birth date of the baby is found near the name of the mother. --LOOK at these examples:

Write to the Civil Record Offices in the USA and Italy to find your direct line ancestor's records when trying to fill in missing years.  

PLEASE don't make the mistake of thinking someone in a microfilm (or a family-tree) with the same surname and born in the same village as your ancestor is necessarily of the same family line.

Search the Family History Library Catalog for records on the birthplace of your ancestors.  In the Place search type in the name of the comune (town where your ancestor was born or married or died) and then click the grey search button.

The most important step in Italian Genealogy Research:
  In Italian Genealogy Research the most important step is to find out exactly which comune (municipality or township) in Italy your ancestors came from and where they were born.  The place they were living in Italy before they emigrated may NOT be where they were born.   Italian Ancestor Origins can be found on documents and records such as Immigration papers, Birth records, Marriage Records, Death Records, Census Records, copies of original Social Security Applications, Ellis Island or other Immigrant Ship Passenger Arrival Records, and Naturalization Papers.  These records are all very useful in order to discover where in Italy your ancestors were born.  Once you find this valuable heritage information you will be able to gather your Italian Ancestry Records from the correct municipality & province.  Then you will be able to connect to living family related to your exact Italian Family Tree. (Cugini and Parenti)

One of the fastest and most fun ways to find out more about your ancestors:
Find others interested in the Genealogy of Families from the same municipality, city, town, or village as your ancestor and you will have more fun and better results.  This is true for any kind of genealogical research not just Italian research.  It doesn't matter if they share your surname.  The information from these types of location specific connections is very valuable.  Some researchers will know stories that will help you connect to fact.  Some might even help you get records from the Italian comune office or church if they are going there on a visit.  Some have films of Italian Vital Records for your comune of interest, which have been filmed by the Mormons, on permanent loan at their local LDS-Family History Center and they will do free lookups for you.  Also, most of the records filmed by the Mormons are also available by writing to the Province Archives in Italy, so if a connection finds your ancestor in one of the Registries of Birth, Marriage or Death then  you can write for a copy from Italy if it's too difficult to deal with the LDS Family History Centers due to location or if they are closed. (unfortunately many are closing or cutting back hours and it is sad for genealogy researchers)

Keep organized:
LDS invented the Gedcom and they used to distribute free Family Tree software.  I've tried all the Family Tree Maker programs (*all* of them except the ones for Mac) and I like and still use their older PAF4 version except when I use their GEDCOM to Web tool then I use PAF 5.  (example of my San Fele, Italy Family Trees study using the easy PAF-5 web create) Sadly, the Mormons (LDS) no longer distribute or update their free PAF program. They have ''partnered'' with some other companies to help those companies distribute their software. I have tried all of those programs in various stages including Beta. Well folks... IMHO they are all TOO BLOATED ''for me''. New is not necessarily better. If you do an online search you can still download their old PAF4 from various freeware sites, ftp sites, oldversion sites, etc. If you don't see it then ask for it. Do a virus test before using anything you download from the internet in case a jealous company (with some very skilled hack) is trying to pollute the old program to manipulate you into buying something new and bloated. Most of the new bloated programs also deliver information about you to the companies that wrote the ''new and improved'' (sic) program.

Eventually you will find it much easier to use a computer genealogy program to save all of your familytree information rather than handwriting or typing everything on sheets of paper. After wasting time :-)) trying most of the genealogy programs available I finally returned to the good ol' basic Personal Ancestral File 4.0 (PAF4.0)  It is FREE, COMPACT, and so EASY to use that I have never had to read the directions.  "For me" PAF-4 is much more comfortable on the eyesight than PAF-5. (too bad they couldn't just fix the word wrap on PAF-4 and leave it alone because PAF-5 has a difficult to see & read GUI ...) (in other words it gives me eyestrain)  Most of the other genealogy programs are bloated and not as convenient and efficient to use.

Ask for Corrections:
Once every year or so, "if" you have uncovered more information on your family tree research, print out copies and send to your relatives.  You don't have to send the entire thing... just the branch they are in.  Ask for corrections.  It's easier if they have computers because then you can simply upload your gedcom onto a free server offering free web space and use it for your family tree history.  You will get more results and find more relatives if you make your genealogical information available online in such a way that your tree can be easily found in search engines such as google otherwise potential family members will have to know all the different groups that require signups in order to find you. Don't limit your availability to easily connect to people from all over the world who are doing research on your comune of interest by locking and trapping yourself into a passworded or pay to view database.

The easiest online tree sites which can be view by all computers, no matter what kind of operating system they are using, or whether they allow scripts or activeX or not are those that are like GenCircles, Rootsweb-WorldConnect *OR* use the free space you get with your ISP connection or use a free website host and your own Gedcom to HTML Program...  I use PAF5 as I said above and also GED4WEB.

Most of the sign-in-to-view sites now require Java Script, which is very slow loading, more difficult to read (pale & thin type faces) extremely wide (movie viewing format) and Worse is that some Java and other scripts can compromise computer security so I don't recommend them to my readers.

If you have family members with computers send your family members your family tree link asking if they will "proof-read" and send you corrections or more information if they have it.  If they don't have computers, which most of the senior-citizens who give me terrific information do not,  then snail-mail family group sheets to the individuals connected to each family group and ask them to please make corrections.  Send 2 copies; one for them to edit and one for them to keep.  It is easier for them if you visit or talk to them on the phone.  Make sure to note who gives you information in case you have questions in the future.  Try to find recorded, written documents to prove every genealogical (family legend) story. 

Find Written Proof:
After writing down or entering your basic family tree information in a genealogy program start to acquire copies of written proof in the form of civil or church documents to verify all of the family legends and interesting stories.  It is good to share "primary source" documents like Birth, Marriage, Death and Census Records, Military Records, Ships' Passenger Arrival Manifest, pictures of Grave or Tombstone Markers, Work Papers, Naturalization Papers, Land Records, World War I Draft Registration Cards, Wills, Deeds, and etc, with relatives who are also researching the same lines & who share with you.  Sharing with other family members also saves your work for posterity.  Sharing with your relatives is a good way to have a friendly backup in case any of your research is damaged, lost, hit by a hurricane or whatever.  Always share with your good relatives or those doing research in your towns of interest for comments, corrections and more information.    

What is Proof vs. Legend?
A Primary Source is one that is proof positive that the person mentioned is the person you claim them to be.  Primary sources are documents that were created at the time an event occurred like a birth, marriage or death date being recorded at the time of the actual birth, marriage, or death.  A birth date on a death record is not a primary source it is a secondary source.  A Secondary Source is one that is not actually proven but gives you a good clue.  IMPORTANT NOTE: all Government and other 'official' records "may" still contain errors in spelling, dates, ages, and more.  This is why it's smart to get about 3 records minimum (or more) on each person if possible.  Most "Family Stories" or "Family Legends" contain a basic truth but are often "decorated" or contain misspellings or other problems of oral tradition.  Collect primary source records to prove the stories.

Where to Write for Vital Records in the United States:
Most USA States have archived birth, marriage, divorce and death records at their Office of Vital Records since the early 1900s & a few have them from about 1880.  Check this link:  If earlier records exist you would write to the County Recorder in the county where the event occurred. Contact the local City Hall where the event occurred as sometimes smaller cities & towns will provide you with copies from their office. 

Social Security Applications:
Generally,  the original Social Security Application will give your ancestor's place of birth and their parent's names including mother's maiden name.  You can easily find the SS# on your ancestor's Official State Death Notice.
  The U.S. Social Security Death Indexes Online *rarely to never* have listing for people who died before 1962.  Also, they only have the names of those deceased persons who had a SS# and obtained benefits or whose survivors applied for benefits against the Social Security Number holder and then the Social Security Administration must move the name and number to the Death Index list.  Go to the USA Tools Page of this website for more information and to search the SS Death Index links.

"The U.S. National Archive and Records Administration" has a tremendous amount of information available for genealogy researchers.  They have sent me copies of Census Records, Naturalization Papers, Ships Manifests, Ships Pictures and more.  If you have enough factual data on your ancestors, simply email NARA and ask them to do a lookup.  If you have time, visit the NARA closest to you:   

U.S.A. Records:
Go to our USA-Tools page of this web-site for more info on various USA Records such as the U.S. Census, Cemeteries and Death Indexes and more.  Everything you need in order to teach yourself to do Italian Family History Research or fundamental Genealogy Research can be found via our ItalianGenealogy Online homepage or linked to Genealogy Tools & Resources table of contents page:

Writing to Italy:
Read Steve Saviello's Tips: How to Research by Mail, What Italian Records are available, and which Archive in Italy has them:  After you know exactly which comune (municipality) / comuni (municipalities) in Italy to write to, use any of the sample "Italian Genealogy Form Letters" you feel comfortable with, which are linked to the "Italian Genealogy Help Tools" page:

  • In the yellow contents box near the top of the page click on:
    "ITALIAN FORM LETTERS - in English & Italian - How to write a letter to Italy" It is always good to check back and forth through the various Italian Form Letters and work up one of your own.  All the letters are in Italian with English underneath so you should be able to easily figure out how to proceed.  Simply change the names and dates given as examples by replacing them with your own family names and dates.

  • Tip: If you request an "estratto" from Italy you won't need much translation help after they send it to you as it is very self-explanatory.  Go to David's Italian Form Letters:  for an example of an Italian Form Letter requesting an estratto.  (estratti is plural).  Although usually you will find more details by requesting a photocopy of the actual record itself, the problem is the often will not photocopy the record for you.

Understanding and Translating Italian letters to and from Italy
If an Italian Archive sends you a copy of the original certificate in Italian, simply use the machine translator links, Latin and Italian Genealogy word lists listed on this site to help you understand the translation as most of the Civil Birth, Marriage and Death records are standard.  Besides helping you to get the "gist" of a translation the computerized translation links can help you to make *small* changes to Italian Form letters:  

Italian Form Letters to Send to Italy for Genealogical Information
It is best *never* to send a request letter to Italy written entirely by using a computer translation.  It will sound funny/strange to them.  If you do not read & write Italian, (simple, grammar school level is okay) then the best way is to use the Italian Form Letter examples, which are found on various sites.  Most of the non-commercial self-help Italian Form Letters are linked to this website on the Italian Genealogy Help page:

Finding general location addresses for your letters to Italy
Use these links to find the Postal and Province code for the comune in Italy in which you are doing your research.  Type in the name of the comune (municipality) at the " LOCALITĄ" section:   Double check it on the Official Italian Post Office Site:   Other helpful address and Italian comune look up links are on the "Italy Tools" page of this site

Use the Italian White Pages to do specific address lookups:
To look up the address of the town hall in the comune you are researching enter Municipio where it asks for Cognome.  Sometimes I have used the word Municipale instead if nothing comes up for municipio or comune, or comune di or whatever else you can think of. and/or

If you cannot find the exact address of the municipality / comune of your ancestors in the Italian White Pages *or* if there seem to be too many addresses to choose from... simply address it the way shown in Steve Saviello's Tips and the letter will go to the proper place because all you really need is:

  • Name of Comune (Province Code)
    Vital Records Office
    Cap Code - Comune (Province optional)
    Italia  /  ITALY

  • Comune di Salerno (SA)
    Ufficio di Stato Civile
    84100 Salerno (SA)
    Italia  /  ITALY

You need to add ITALY at the bottom so that the USA Post Office does not become confused by the word Italia and return your letter to you as has happened to some people in the USA. 

The Registry (Census) Office is = L'Ufficio Anagrafe.
The person in charge is the Officer of the Census is = L'Ufficiale di Anagrafe

The Office of Vital Records is = L'Ufficio di Stato Civile.
The person in charge is the Officer of the Civil Records is = L'Ufficiale di Stato Civile.

*(It is not necessary to use the article "the" /  "L" in the address.  Lately I've been using "Anagrafe/Stato Civile" )*

Italian State Archives / Archivio di Stato
Use this to find the address of the Provincial Archives in Italy that handles the records for your comune of interest.  The Achivio di Stato will have copies of many of the Civil Records of the comune, which is where the Mormons filmed the ones they have and in addition sometimes the Italian Archives have more years in their files.  They also have copies of some of the Italian Military Records or generally speaking at least the "Liste di leva" from about 1842 - 1909 or later if you are lucky. I have seen some listing their Ufficio di Leva holdings as comprising as many years as 1792 -1926. To check other "Patrimonio Documentario" not available from the comuni or more easily available through the State Archives go to this link, find the province governing the your comune of your ancestors and read through their links:  In addition the Archivi di Stato have an official Historical Archivista (historical archivist) on staff, 'kind of like' our US National Archives (NARA) except in Italy they do not have a National Archive only Province Archives.  

Catholic Church Address Lookups:
Use this link to look up a church but if you are searching for an Italian comune that starts with San or Santa and you don't get a response use only the initial S. followed by Fele or whatever is part of the rest of the name.  This link is generally reliable but always double-check everything as I have found mistakes in all the online lookups including this one. This link is not run by "the church" it is simply a private endeavor:
More Catholic Church links and Diocese lookups are on the Italy Genealogy Help page:

  • You can double-check your answers by doing "Church lookups" on the Italian Yellow Pages: 

  • On different days and for different churches I have found results by doing searches for - chiesa, chiesa cattolica, chiesa parrocchia, parrocchia and other variations. 

  • David Zerga recommended this phrase: Chiesa cattolica - servizi parrocchiali.  

  • For some reason all searches, on all days, do not get the same responses.  I have been getting results by simply using by using the Italian White Pages: and entering parrocchia in the space under "Cognome" and the name of the town in the space under "Dove"

Search through our Italy Roots Forum Italian Genealogy Online Message Board and read what others have done to find & obtain records on their ancestors: (you don't need to post or join anything simply read through what others have shared as it will help you too)

Italian Family History Sites:
Visit and learn from non-commercial, personal, Italian Family Tree Stories.  Many are listed on this list of Italian Ancestry Family Tree Genealogies.  The best will include Surname lists, Family Tree Charts and Pedigrees. Some may be researching Surnames from the same places in Italy your ancestors originated.  Be sure to contact them if they are researching a surname in your Family Tree and from your ancestors' town in Italy.  They are all Italian Genealogy Hobbyists and freely share what they have learned from researching their own Italian Roots:

Do not send money to Italy without asking first.
The comuni (municipalities), provincial archives, and parishes in Italy welcome your financial contributions to cover their overhead charges. However, do not send money to Italy without first writing the Italian archive to ask them for their fees. They don't require much and sometimes they will send a record free of charge or for less than $5.00 for the postage & handling of each document, so ask them first.  Pay Italy directly for your record requests, *after* they advise you personally of the cost.  It's less expensive than hiring professional genealogists and gives you the knowledge of how to help others with your experience in doing your own Italian Family Tree Research.

Best Regards,
Paula Nigro
Italian Genealogy Online

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